#AcBookWeek: The Guadalajara International Book Fair (28 Nov-6 Dec 2015)

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Today’s guest post is by Simon Mahony (Department of Information Studies, UCL), who spoke about The Academic Book of the Future at the 2015 Guadalajara International Book Fair. This post is a brief summary of his talk.

I was very pleased to be invited by the British Council to take part in one of their Mexico in the UK and the UK in Mexico events and to speak in an academic panel at the Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL) at the start of December. This is apparently the largest literary festival and most important publishing gathering in Latin America with the reputation of being the largest book fair in the world after Frankfurt. The title of the panel organised by the Department of Educational Studies at the University of Guadalajara was ‘The Challenges of Knowledge Production in Modern Societies’ and as part of the FIL there was plenty of excuse to showcase some of our publications.

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My talk ‘Reflections on knowledge production within the framework of UK academic institutions’ finished up with some slides about The Academic Book of the Future generously given to me by my colleague Samantha Rayner. This allowed me to go full circle in my talk about knowledge production and the academy as well as traditional versus new modes of production.

My talk started with the first Free Universities in the European Enlightenment period, with scholarship built on previous scholarship, and open discourse through the publication model – this being the cornerstone of Humanities scholarship. Moving through knowledge representation, I argued strongly for the Open Access movement with the modern university as a driver for this, particularly with the mandate for open publication of research output.

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I finished up with a showcase of some open UCL output including UCL Press and followed by The Academic Book of the Future project, more specifically the Palgrave Pivot publication of the same name, edited by Rebecca Lyons and Samantha Rayner. What is a Book Fair without some promotion and product placement?

Images of me, the panel, and the books (including this volume prominently placed on the desk!) were captured in video and stills and circulated by the University of Guadalajara, as well as on Twitter and other social media platforms.

I offered the two volumes generously donated by the authors to the University of Guadalajara library so the physical medium (and reputation of the authors and editors!) would have an immediate international and trans-continental impact factor. The FIL itself was definitely impressive and certainly lived up to its reputation as the biggest book fair in the world after Frankfurt: so many books and so many publishers.

 

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What’s the Point of the Academic Book? Part Three: Tim Hitchcock

The Project was invited to speak at the BSECS 45th Annual Conference, which took place on Thursday 7th January 2016 at the University of Oxford. The British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (BSECS) is soon to launch its own book series, in association with Boydell & Brewer, and wanted to consult with its community on the form that this new series should take. Chaired by Professor Matthew Grenby (Newcastle), the provocatively-titled round table ‘What’s the Point of the Academic Book?’ included views from Project Research Associate Rebecca Lyons, Professor Tim Hitchcock (Sussex), and Mari Shullaw (Boydell & Brewer). The three views from each speaker will be posted in three parts – each perspective being published in its own blog post. The third and final part, given here, is Professor Tim Hitchcock’s. Part One, by Rebecca Lyons, is here: https://academicbookfuture.org/2016/01/25/the-point-of-the-academic-book-part-one/ and Part Two, by Mari Shullaw, is here: https://academicbookfuture.org/2016/01/26/the-point-of-the-academic-book-part-two/

Tim HitchcockTo my undying frustration I find myself wedded to a position that I suspect will be unpopular with this audience. Although I have published some dozen books over what increasingly feels like a rather over-long academic career – most recently a monograph, co-written with Robert Shoemaker, called London Lives : Poverty, Crime and the Making of a Modern City, I don’t much like them. As a technology of knowledge they strike me as both inefficient and outmoded – and as importantly, I think the technology has changed what books are, making them just too fast to be good scholarship.

Having said this, academic books in particular, were undoubtedly wonderful components of a complex technology of knowing – the greatest product of the Enlightenment. And they worked beautifully within that context. The first course I took as a first-year undergraduate in the mid-1970s was in Library Science – and that course introduced me to the beauty of that remarkable integrated system that was the ‘library’ – from union catalogues, to card catalogues, to concordances. And I spent the next twenty years working in libraries of precisely the same sort, reading books. And I gladly admit that traditional footnotes citing hard copy books and journals, work when read while sitting in a major reference library – with those volumes and journals readily to hand. Bibliographies too, worked just fine, when the sources used to substantiate a discussion were composed exclusively of the sorts of materials that could be encompassed within the Dewey Decimal system, or archival catalogue. And Indexes represented an intelligent manual approach to mapping the contents of a single body of text – a mental model (ideally written by the author to guide the eye of the reader) designed to make the text more usable. Chapters and ISBNs, prefaces, acknowledgements, appendices and all the clarity of a well-formed colophon – were a great technology of knowing.

And they worked within a traditional ecology of institutional knowledge creation and dissemination. Academics were (and are) paid by the state and their students, to write books, which are then published either by traditional non-profit university presses; or else by commercial presses whose services are built into a wider academic ecology. And the economics of the publication is then made credible by the investment of university libraries – who purchase ninety percent of the product. A merry-go-round of creation, production and consumption that has gone on its merry way for a couple of centuries; and did the job of making, recording and disseminating knowledge; and enacting the slow form conversation that went with it. And while this system was grossly elitist, highly gendered, inherently Western centric and institutionally racist – it nevertheless had and has many pleasures – some of which the attendees at this conference are here to enjoy.

And, of course, books are also beautiful things. The heft of a heavy tome in your hand; the smell of old leather, and uncut pages; the romance of engaging with knowledge in the same form as it was originally ‘published’, a hundred, or two hundred or five hundred years ago is a wonderful romantic experience – that anyone studying the past needs to have encountered. Like the journey in to the paper archive; reading a book with one hand or two, is a necessary part of knowing how the past worked.

But as a means of acting out and performing the all-important function of the academy – of generating deep knowledge as a background to modern civil society – I think academic books are a bit rubbish. In part they are rubbish because they don’t take advantage of the technologies around us to fulfil the purpose of academic writing more fully. And in part it is because the process of publication and production has in fact taken full advantage of those technologies.

Having said this, when I was originally invited to be on this panel, it was sold to me under the title and question of whether ‘the academic book has a future?’ And while I don’t like it or them very much, my conclusion is that yes, books do have a future. I think there is a continuing – though declining – demand for the technology needed to enact an older and traditional form of scholarship and intellectual authority.   And since books are deeply mired in our still thriving hierarchies of authority, they will remain. As long as books form the easy tick box on a REF assessment; while they stand out on your CV – evidence of seriousness of purpose, and justification for just one more sabbatical – they will remain. And in the process, their publication and sale back to the universities that paid to have them written in the first instance, will continue to provide profits to commercial publishers, and justifications for library budgets, and paid employment for all the people involved in the process of turning an argument in to an object – a hard copy book.

In other words, as long as the requirements of ‘authority’ demand the existence books to evidence the existence of ‘authors’ who can be safely given academic jobs, the ‘book’ – as distinct from long-form writing – has a future. Like neo-liberal capitalism, the greengrocer’s apostrophe, poverty and herpes, academic books definitely have a future. I just don’t think that this is a particularly good thing.

We all know the affordances that the World Wide Web has created. We all use it every day, and if we are honest with ourselves we all know that it has fundamentally changed how we perform scholarship and research; certainly how we write; and how we engage in academic conversations.

Most of us access and read journal articles as pdfs downloaded from Jstor. Most of us access 18th century printed material from Eighteenth-century Collections online, Google books, project Gutenberg or such. Even our primary manuscript research has been increasingly shaped by what is available online – whether that is the Newton Project, the Old Bailey Online, or the endless smaller projects that have sought to digitise the stuff of the dead.

And of course, how we work with text has also changed beyond recognition. All of us use the automated footnoting facility in Word, and most of us use one form or another of citation management, whether that is Nvivo, Zotero or Endnote. We now exchange ideas via Twitter, and generate camera ready copy with Word. And once written, we shunt the whole thing off to the publisher, who runs a quick and dirty bit of copy-editing – aided by an automated search and replace function – over the result, before bunging it into a standard design template, and generating an automated index, before Bob’s your uncle, you have a book, ready for the Autumn catalogue to go out to the 400 American research libraries whose budgets keep the whole financial edifice upright.   With the possible exception of hard copy proofs, there is unlikely to be a single physical artefact of a modern book, from inception to the moment it lands with a thud on your doormat.

And all of this is a problem in part because it is all a bit easy.

Up until the early 1990s, generating a book was a different kind of process. Before email, every revision and every exchange of views took weeks and months; and when all the process of turning manuscript in to print was embedded within a form of production that still marched to the rhythms of the hand press – with proofs and galleys and all the joys of the ink stained fingers – books were not just long-form writing, but a remarkably slow form as well.   Now, you can mimic the appearance of print with a few keystrokes. And the slow scholarship that was required no longer matters. In other words, the important thing about that old style process, producing that old style ‘book’, was that all the components of the system were tied to a single purpose, moving at a stately – ever so slow – pace.

And that pace was important. It meant that a book was a much more significant investment of time, than it has become. It required more hands, and more minds – from local librarian, to author, to editor, to copy-editor, to typesetter, to warehouseman. Each job done by hand; the privilege of publication was necessarily rationed. By contrast, we are now in a situation in which there are both many more books – getting on for one for every academic in the country, every six or seven years – and each one represents a substantially smaller investment of time and resource – both intellectual and financial. This has the benefit of giving voice to more individuals – though it should be noted that the retention of peer review, means those voices are still largely limited by class and race.

All of which is to simply say that academic books have if anything become an ever more important part of that wider academic ecology, which itself has become ever more demanding of book production. But that while the technology of creation – all the joys of Google Search, Word and the Adobe Suite – make these things much easier to publish, that does not mean that the product itself is any good. Or that they continue to serve that underlying function of performing that slow dance of scholarship and public engagement, of deep learning, leading to deep teaching, leading to a working civil society, that the academy, that Universities promise.

This seems to me a real shame. If instead of using the ‘affordances’ of the new technology to simply speed up and cheapen the monograph and academic book, we chose to do something new and different, that nevertheless supported that the underlying purpose of the academy, then we could still have long form writing, and deep thinking, without the ridiculous, Fordist – factory floor – world that has come to characterise the modern academy.

And I really just want to end with a suggestion. I want to suggest that instead of mooning over ‘books’, and worrying about whether the business model of the commercial presses will still be viable in a ten years, we work a bit harder at representing more truthfully the research process we all use.

I had a very interesting experience recently. In writing our last ‘book’, Bob Shoemaker and I deliberately chose to design and implement it as a thoroughgoing ebook. Every quote was linked to the original source, every footnote to the article, or ESTC entry cited; every graph to the underlying spreadsheet and data, and every cell in every spreadsheet to its source. We wrote the book collaboratively in a WIKI environment, and in the end it contained over 4000 hyperlinks. Building on the London Lives and Old Bailey websites, it was conceived and delivered to the publishers as a vertically integrated research archive and commentary that was designed to serve all the purposes of traditional scholarship. The publishers had contracted to deliver this ebook, but when it came to submission – when we delivered the manuscript in Mobi and Epub formats – with floating formats, and colour images – they turned around as said, that they could only accept a book in a flat Word format. In the end, after some two years, that book is now out – and though an e-version exists, there is no provision for libraries to buy it, and it looks and works like a slightly up-market pdf.

The reasons for my failure in this instance is a long story. But the point I want to make today is that it is entirely possible to represent modern scholarship in three dimensions – to capture that journey in to the literature, and Google Books, and online primary sources – and to create a ‘book’ that fully reflects that journey. Even if we believe that long-form writing is important (and I am in three minds), let’s make books that take advantage of the online, that serve the real function of footnotes, and stop making books that feel like the dead husks of a previous generation’s form of scholarship.

And along the way, let’s think again about the institutions that tie us ever more tightly in to this ever more demanding system of production for production’s sake – this increasingly Fordist dystopia of academic publication for the mere purpose of demonstrating productivity, over purpose.

I do believe the academic book has a future, and in my imagination a bright and positive one – as a graphic novel, and a Twitter stream, as a curated collection of blogs, or a string of comments and responses. I believe we can continue to think deeply and engage deeply, as long as we simply keep in mind the limitations of the technology, and the purpose of our thinking. I very much hope that academic book in its weird, flat, 19th century form is dying. Long live the book.

[Editor’s Note: For more on the alternative academic book, check out the Call for Content for BOOC (Book as Open Online Content) – an exciting new collaborative project between The Academic Book of the Future and UCL Press: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-press/ucl-press-news/call-for-content-booc]

A Storify of live tweets from the panel is available here: https://storify.com/AcBookFuture/what-is-the-point-of-the-academic-book

What’s the Point of the Academic Book? Part Two: Mari Shullaw

The Project was invited to speak at the BSECS 45th Annual Conference, which took place on Thursday 7th January 2016 at the University of Oxford. The British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (BSECS) is soon to launch its own book series, in association with Boydell & Brewer, and wanted to consult with its community on the form that this new series should take. Chaired by Professor Matthew Grenby (Newcastle), the provocatively-titled round table ‘What’s the Point of the Academic Book?’ included views from Project Research Associate Rebecca Lyons, Professor Tim Hitchcock (Sussex), and Mari Shullaw (Boydell & Brewer). The three views from each speaker will be posted in three parts – each perspective being published in its own blog post. The second, given here, is Mari Shullaw’s. Part One, by Rebecca Lyons, is here: https://academicbookfuture.org/2016/01/25/the-point-of-the-academic-book-part-one/

Mari_ShullawBoydell & Brewer is proud and pleased to be working with BSECS on the eighteenth-century studies series. We hope that it will be, in many ways, a reflection of this conference – a place where all the disciplines involved in eighteenth-century studies can meet and learn from each other.

Background on Boydell and Brewer

We are a smallish independent academic press, publishing about 150 books a year across the humanities. Founded by two medievalists – Derek Brewer and Richard Barber – and their ethos of scholarly publishing is still very much with us. The core of our publishing is monographs. We don’t publish journals and we don’t publish sciences.

Books are available to libraries on a variety of digital platforms including JSTOR and CUP’s University Publishing online and increasingly our more accessible titles are available as Kindle and ibooks. Nevertheless 80% of our sales are still “woodpulp” – not unusual among publishers in the humanities.

We haven’t yet published anything in Open Access, but that is because we have not been asked to do so. That is sure to change in the near future. At this stage rather than setting a tariff as some of our colleagues have done we’d prefer to talk to authors individually about what they and their funders are looking for and work from there.

In this paper I am going to side-step the philosophic and pedagogic issues involved in defining the point of the academic book, and settle instead for some reflections on the related but more manageable question of function.

Crisis – What crisis?

Signs of health for the academic book:

The long form academic book maintains its position at the heart of the humanities disciplines.

We are not short of new monograph publications. The Crossick report noted the four largest academic publishers had doubled monograph output in the last ten years, and seemed to regard this as a sign of health. I’m not so sure. Are there really twice as many monographs worthy of publication now as there were in 2004? It seems unlikely.

Signs of sickness for the academic book:

Sales have dwindled, and as the print runs have decreased so the prices have increased – and all this at a time when library budgets in the UK and other parts of the are being squeezed.

It is important not to overstate the importance of price here. The sheer bulk of what is available also plays its part, so bringing down prices, as we do when we publish in paperback, makes worryingly little difference to the numbers sold.

This story applies as much to books available in digital form as it does to print. Open Access as currently exercised would simply put the gate at the other end, with the authors of certain kinds of work and authors in certain institutional positions being unable to publish, rather than the public unable to read what they have written.

The way forward

In The Academic Book of the Future – the recent Palgrave Pivot (Nov 2015) [available to download for free here: http://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9781137595768] commissioned and editing by the Project, Frances Pinter, of Manchester University Press and Knowledge Unlatched stated that:

The meaning of the word ‘book’ itself will never again be confined to that of a physical object to be held, admired, loved, subject to spilt coffee, or burning by dictators. The ‘book’ will be defined more around its function than any of its other characteristics.

In fact the elegy for the book as an object of love and a repository of memory is probably premature – but the point about function is well taken. We need to be looking at it where the book fits into the academic eco system and we need to look at this I think both from the point of view of the user of books – how does the academic book work as a tool of the academic trade? – and from that of the author – why do you write the books in the first place?

For the user a book has two main functions, which in the digital age one might describe very crudely as ‘browse’ and ‘search’, and which have implications for the medium in which books are accessed.

To the ‘browser’, the whole book is important. The browser values the journey – the way the argument is shaped, the meanders and the digressions. For this reader even noting the faults – the points where the argument is thin and the evidence is overstated – is part of the pleasure of the journey, and to this reader or to be more accurate to a reader in this mode style matters. It’s difficult to read in this way if a book is badly written. It is also – it is increasingly clear – somewhat difficult to read in this way electronically, at least as things stand at the moment. This is the sort of reading where you flip back and forth, remembering that there was a relevant passage two thirds of the way back at the top of the left hand page, where you underline and scrawl things in the margins. The full experience, which is sensory as well as intellectual, seems to require print and paper.

It has to be admitted that there are simply not enough hours in the day for browsing. Mostly we need to get through stuff, find what we need and move on. It’s here that the digital form comes into its own. There are three key requirements here:

  1. Discoverability: you need to know that the book exists and that it is relevant.
  2. Accessibility: you want it when you want it. This is one of the major advantages of the ebook, whether available through the university library or bought by an individual
  3. Searchability: find key information and arguments and move on.

And one thing which ebooks alone have the potential to provide is access to the original source material through hyperlinks, which as Tim [Hitchcock] discovered [during the London Lives project: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/58047/], can be a tricky business for publishers, but is still quite clearly the way of the future.

Working out these questions of function for the user is relatively simple, though the delivery may be more complicated. From the publishers’ point of view this is not a zero sum game. There is no reason why print and digital should not coexist happily for decades to come.

As far as the author’s side is concerned my role is to ask the questions, not to give the answers. In an interview after the publication of his report Crossick made the interesting point that “the monograph was not simply about dissemination but a way to think about the research itself – I call this ‘thinking through writing the book.’ There is an element of personal development here. It is in the process of turning a thesis into a first book – if this is done well – that a student becomes a scholar and this process is reiterated throughout an academic career. The writing of a book in the humanities in particular is a key part of the academic digestion.

But is this route too readily accepted as the norm? When I was a student, a good many of my older lecturers published relatively seldom and certainly not in monograph form. The pressures of a much more competitive job market and the REF have put paid to that, but are we simply assuming that the monograph is the point to which research tends? Are there actually too many, and should we be thinking instead of alternative modes of production? As the current problems with Open Access are ironed out there may be room for more journals, for instance. Digital publishing has made it easier for publishers to be more flexible about length, so we have experiments like the Palgrave Pivot series of intermediate publications of 30-50k words. The current Pivot publications are mostly in the social sciences, but would there be more room for similar in the humanities?

More radically the digital revolution, stuttering as it is, does provide the means by which the relation between author and readership, whether academic or more general can be reconfigured. As Bob Shoemaker states of the London Lives project on his Sheffield blog:

The reader would then be given the evidence to question our interpretations, come to different conclusions, or simply follow their own interests through the linked sources. The book we wanted to create would be so extensively interlinked that we would cede control of the narrative and our authority as authors could be challenged by readers following their own agendas.

There is a political project here about the balance of power between author and reader, which could be taken further.

What is the point of the academic publisher?

Finally, a few words on the question ‘what is the point of the academic publisher?’ – because I suppose that must be why I am part of this panel.

The first thing to be said is that there really is now no part of the publishing process, taken individually, that you could not do on your own if you wanted to. Nevertheless, I believe that we do still have a contribution to make.

Three things in particular:

  1. Time and consistency of effort

Between teaching, research, writing and university admin, self-publishing might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for you [the academic].

An academic publisher pulls together experience and efficiency across a range of things: editing, production and marketing.

  1. Attention

Good editors really want their authors to do well, and will invest time in this. A good editor, especially when working with a junior scholar, will spend time on helping to shape the proposal before it goes out for review, will interpret and mediate the reviews which often ask for contradictory or impossible things and will also do a fair amount of hand-holding and cheer-leading during the ups and downs of the process of writing a book.

  1. Detachment

All organisations have their own politics, but at least we [the publishers] are outside of the institutional politics of your universities.

We have no axe to grind apart from the rather innocent one of trying to make your book pay its way so that we can make a little profit and go on publishing more books.

One last word: I mentioned detachment just now, but of course as academic publishers we are only ever semi-detached. It is worth remembering that, however the power relations may look when you are in the middle of a dispute with your editor or having difficulty getting something published, in the end we are wholly dependent on you. If you sink, we sink, and if you really want us to go in a particular direction – and by that I mean not just as authors but as consumers – then that is the direction we will go.

We are in your hands.

 

A Storify of live tweets from the panel is available here: https://storify.com/AcBookFuture/what-is-the-point-of-the-academic-book

 

What’s the Point of the Academic Book? Part One: Rebecca Lyons

The Project was invited to speak at the BSECS 45th Annual Conference, which took place on Thursday 7th January 2016 at the University of Oxford. The British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (BSECS) is soon to launch its own book series, in association with Boydell & Brewer, and wanted to consult with its community on the form that this new series should take. Chaired by Professor Matthew Grenby (Newcastle), the provocatively-titled round table ‘What’s the Point of the Academic Book?’ included views from Project Research Associate Rebecca Lyons, Professor Tim Hitchcock (Sussex), and Mari Shullaw (Boydell & Brewer). The three views from each speaker will be posted in three parts – each perspective being published in its own blog post. The first, given here, is from Rebecca Lyons.

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I work as the Research Associate on The Academic Book of the Future Project, but I’ve also worked as an editor in academic publishing, in a university library, and I am an academic researcher myself. So I’m talking to you with an almost holistic awareness of the different roles, approaches, and perspectives involved with academic books and their authoring, editing, production, distribution, and consumption by various groups and individuals. Besides this, The Academic Book of the Future Project used its first year to go out and talk to several of the different communities and stakeholders involved with the academic book – including booksellers, publishers, academics, librarians, funders, and policy-makers. We harvested views, opinions, concerns, questions and thoughts from all of these groups, offered funding and support for discrete events, activities, or pieces of research into areas of particular interest to them and the academic book more broadly, such as peer review, the role of the editor, and audio-visual resources in research outputs. The Project also edited a book of twelve essays offering views on the academic book by contributors across publishing, academia, bookselling, and libraries, which was published by Palgrave in November as a short-form monograph, a Palgrave Pivot. The book is called The Academic Book of the Future and is available to download free as an Open Access ebook, as well as being available to order in hard copy here: http://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9781137595768. So as well as offering my own opinion on what the point of the academic book is (which is actually quite a refreshing thing for me to do after listening to so many views!) I’ll also be referring to some of the pertinent or recurring points that have arisen during our first year of research and collaboration with our stakeholder communities involved with academic books.

So for starters, what do we mean when we say ‘academic book’? Right at the Project’s outset I gave a talk to the staff at the British Library, and this was one of the questions asked by the audience. I threw it back to them, and in the ensuing discussion no consensus was reached. If the staff at the BL can’t agree on what an academic book is, this already points to an interesting issue in the ways in which academic books are considered and categorised. For the purposes of the Project we have been inclusive, rather than exclusive, and count critical editions, textbooks, edited collections, and of course the academic monograph as academic books, as well as the whole gamut of formats in which academic books might be found – from hard copy to PDF to ebook to other new digital iterations, such as book apps – as well as more performative formats such as video essays or media-rich resources. This too – the proliferation of forms and formats that academic books are increasingly available in – surely indicates something about the value, and uses, and perceptions around the academic book. They are enduring, yet mutable. Fixed, yet fluid. They are evolving. I wonder if this would be the case, if there was no point to them?

I will honestly state my position here: I believe there IS a point to the academic book. In fact, I think there are several. Arguably, when I need a quick fact check or to check a date, I might turn to Wikipedia. But I might doubt the veracity and trustworthiness of a Wikipedia entry. Former British Library Wikimedian-in-Residence Andrew Gray, speaking at an event called ‘Should we trust Wikipedia?’ during the inaugural Academic Book Week in November, cited various studies on the factual quality of Wikipedia, which have shown that the average Wikipedia article has 4 mistakes. He pointed out that this varies quite considerably across subjects and languages (for instance the pages in German on pharmaceutical subjects are 99.7% factually correct, reassuringly). The full video of the event, including Andrew’s talk, is available to view here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwSYcLHOf-E&app=desktop. So as a medievalist, not a pharmacologist, for peace of mind I might instead check my date in an historical timeline in the front of a peer-reviewed academic monograph on the Wars of the Roses, or flick to the index to find a reference to a specific historical individual discussed in that volume, or I might hop to a page on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online. Why? Because academic resources published by respected publishers – whether hard copy or digital – carry a certain assurance of academic quality. Already one of the keys to defining an academic book, as well as why we need them, is coming through here, and that is the value added by academic publishers and reviewers during peer review and the editorial process. A good, respected academic publisher is like a stamp of quality upon a publication. Not to mention the fact that they usually make the books aesthetically appealing too, which helps when you’re trawling through them all day for research!

‘Ok, that’s true,’ you might say, ‘but you can have all that in an article. Why do you need an academic book? Why not an article or a series of articles, or a special issue of a journal on a particular topic?’ And I would answer that yes, all of these resources are valid, necessary, and useful. However, when I want to sink my teeth into a topic – when I require a considered, in-depth treatment of a research subject – academic monographs are where I turn. They have a form and structure to them that makes them familiar, and (usually!) eminently usable. I own scores of them in hard copy format, and revisit them often in my research. From previous readings I also have an idea of the type of content that each one contains, and even whereabouts in the book that content can be located. There’s a real geography to the physical academic book, which for me has a powerful mnemonic function. They are treasured possessions, and I look at them fondly on my bookshelves.

In my own research I look at marginalia – notes and doodles in the margins of medieval manuscripts. As well as their aesthetic appeal (which should not be undervalued) I love physical, hard-copy books for this type of embedded history, contained within their pages. I am also a scribbler in the margins of my own academic books, and it has been both a joy and an embarrassment upon re-use of a book to rediscover some of the notes I scrawled earlier on in my academic career. However, I am also a web editor and blogger, and a fan of the flexibility offered by digital formats that I can call up remotely and read on my laptop or iPad on the go, wherever I am, and use search functions to find specific words or phrases quickly and easily within that content. When it comes to academic books I want to have the choice of both digital and hard copy, and the different possibilities and uses that each has to offer me as a researcher.

And in terms of my status as an Early Career Researcher, I have found the best academic monographs to be instructive – I’ve learned more from them than from any module or supervisor about how to phrase my academic voice, how to construct an argument, and how to lead a set of thoughts and ideas based upon evidence to a conclusion. Here I am concentrating on the monograph, but other academic books are incredibly valuable too in terms of arts and humanities research – the importance and usefulness of a good scholarly edition cannot be overemphasised, and edited collections of essays can illuminate a particular topic from a plethora of angles. The long-form argument that the academic monograph allows is an important one in our disciplines of literature and history. The space and word count enabled by academic monographs to pursue complex and interlinking ideas to their conclusions is vital, and although other disciplines such as the social sciences may argue that the thesis-as-articles academic book works better for them, for me as a medievalist, the academic monograph has been key. Again, the availability of choice here for each individual and each discipline to use the type of research output best suited to them is hugely important.

‘But academic books are too expensive’, you might also say. ‘No one buys them, library budgets are too stretched by journal subscriptions and everything else, so no one reads them.’ It’s true that print runs for academic monographs now tend to be quite low – in the few hundreds. So you might argue that the research is in them is pointless, because it isn’t reaching anyone. Researchers are shouting into the void. But are they? Personally I’ve never had problems sourcing a book via my academic library or interlending, although I’m aware that the availability and cost of these services can vary across institutions. As I said, I’ve also bought plenty of academic books for myself, even when, as a poor student, paying the rent has sometimes been an issue. But that’s me. What about everyone else with more common sense, who buys food instead of books? The issue of research distribution and availability has prompted some very useful and interesting innovations of late. Digitisation and Open Access are the ones that are on everyone’s lips at the moment, for various reasons, and I won’t go into those too much here because I’m sure they will be covered in the discussion later, except to say that they have brought new possibilities (and challenges) for readers and publishers. Digital books arguably cut production costs involved with hard copy books, and print-on-demand technology has enabled publishers to offer the choice of hard copy format as well as digital to their readers. Shifts in funding have also brought new possibilities and challenges, with academic institutions footing some or all of the bill for Open Access publication, and in some cases even becoming their own publishers, as we have seen with the burgeoning increase in University Presses in the UK (and here I include another quick plug for the first UK University Presses Conference on the 16th and 17th March 2016).

But another innovation in a bid to reach a greater audience has been the crossover book. The REF’s impact agenda (perhaps combined with publishers’ enthusiasm for books that sell!) has encouraged researcher-authors to write books that are academic in content, but also appeal to a wider audience of reader in terms of style, tone, and approach. Perhaps there are fewer footnotes, or even none at all (gasp!). There have been some real successes here, such as Oxford’s very own Professor Carolyne Larrington, a medievalist who has written some wonderful crossover books. Her most recent publication considers the medieval basis for the book and TV series Game of Thrones. The general popularity of such a topic, combined with radio appearances and other publicity, has ensured that her research on the Middle Ages has reached an audience that it otherwise probably would not have.

Publishers and researcher-authors will continue to find ways to make the academic book relevant in terms of format, approach, accessibility, and funding. It’s an exciting and challenging time for the academic book: lots of factors are shifting and many new possibilities are opening up. I’d like to finish by quoting one of our wonderful Pivot contributors, Jaki Hawker, the Academic Manager at Blackwell’s Edinburgh. Jaki views the future of the academic book as “inclusive, collaborative, available across multiple platforms and in a number of formats” (p. 92). Given innovations such as I’ve discussed, it seems that the academic book of the future has infinite possibilities. And maybe it does. But Hawker argues that they will be “created, enabled and shaped by the market” (p. 92). The academic book, in essence, will continue to be what people want or need it to be – and for me, I think that means it will offer more and more choice in terms of price, format, and access.

A Storify of live tweets from the panel is available here: https://storify.com/AcBookFuture/what-is-the-point-of-the-academic-book

Note: Views are Rebecca’s own and are not necessarily representative of the Project.

#AcBookWeek: The Future of the Academic Book in the USA

On 16th November 2015 Brown University hosted a panel discussion as part of Academic Book Week. This post outlines the key issues raised during the debate.

Note: The video recording of the full discussion is available to watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vl7O7DUB__8&list=PL2PwShbFBf4Bk6AaDM2mGixpS_7TYasyT

Brown_AcBookWeek_event 

The discussion was moderated by Sheila Bonde, Brown University Professor and Chair of History of Art and Architecture and Professor of Archaeology and the Ancient World. The publishers and editors that participated in the panel discussion were 

  • Amy Brand, Director of the MIT Press
  • Anne Brackenbury, Executive Editor, Higher Education Division, University of Toronto Press
  • Robert Harington, Associate Executive Director for Publishing, American Mathematical Society
  • Sarah Lippincott, Program Director, Educopia Institute

Sheila Bonde introduced the questions up for discussion:

  • What is an academic book?
  • What is a digital book?
  • Who reads them?
  • How do we train scholars to write these “books of the future”?

The first respondent was Amy Brand, MIT Press. Brand stated that MIT Press has been at the forefront of digital publishing (mostly PDF and open access). The digital book, Brand argued, is more than an innovation of the print book, but rather adds to/builds on the foundation of the book – it does not supplant it

How do we juggle both print and digital? Brand suggested that a uniform model is being replaced by a multiplicity of models: publishers need to remain nimble and responsive to the needs of researchers and readers. We have an opportunity now to open up books to be seen in new ways – ‘permeable’, ‘altered’, ‘sculpted’. In terms of innovation, the University of Minnesota Press’ iterative publishing offers another form of ‘permeability’, with various new opportunities for readers to annotate texts.

Brand acknowledged that print books are still objects of desire – perhaps even more so now that there are other options. MIT does print and digital simultaneously, including open versions in response to author desires. So far, Brand stated, this seems to have helped sales. Online versions offer additional/supplementary and updatable materials.

Brand drew attention to other practical issues around the academic book in current contexts. For instance, the average publication cost of a digital monograph is around $30K. These costs are significant. The question of discoverability is also an important one: how do publishers make digital books more visible/accessible to readers? Linking chapters? Indexing? And how do we effectively evaluate scholarly online publications? Bookmetrix can track citations, downloads, readers, and mentions – is this a legitimizing tool? Amazon’s line-by-line payment to authors provides an opportunity for authors to see into reading behavior – should this count as we evaluate digital publications? There is a difference, however, between short-term and long-term uses of the book. Evaluations such as Bookmetrix are useful, but don’t pick up value that accrues after several years. Same for Amazon – they both measure what is being read now, but not what is being bought and read later. There are potentially unforeseen uses of knowledge that we can’t yet tap in to.

Brand finished with a closing question: how do we make sure content remains accessible?

The second panelist was Ann Brackenbury, University of Toronto (Higher Ed division). Brackenbury highlighted that much digital content is still static (such as PDFs). She asked: Why are we trying to change, despite the resilience of the book (as an object)?

The mission of the Higher Ed division at the University of Toronto is to bring scholarship and teaching together in a more productive relationship by, for example:

  • Creating websites
  • Publishing mostly small, case-study books
  • Creative non-fiction strategies

Brackenbury spoke about their new series/initiative: EthnoGRAPHIC, which is ethnography in a graphic illustrated novel form. The hybrid of linear text-based culture and visual culture in this series keys into the ways students take in information today. This hybridity, Brackenbury argued, requires complex decoding skills, but it also offers a theoretical and disciplinary challenge, too. It allows author/scholars to build rich worlds, characters, and locations. The value added is the creation of the narrative or story, and the ability to rewrite scholarly content for different audiences.

Brackenbury suggested that graphic novels, or comics, build communities around them. They are also useful for ‘showing’ (rather than just ‘telling’) a story, and mean that audiences can be extended through transmedia: telling a variety of stories across different channels. Importantly, she argued, combining traditional and new media approaches means building new connections, and she suggested that the academic book of the future is connected in a broader sphere via multimedia presentation formats and multiple incarnations.

The third speaker was Sarah Lippincott from the Library Publishing Coalition. Lippincott started with an explanation that the publishing landscape is diverse, including print and digital, and that the production of research is outstripping the capacity for publishing it. She also suggested that new forms of inquiry and understanding by authors and readers may change the way we engage with books, and that the most important element of the academic book of the future will be openness, meaning it is free to use, free to read, and free to remix. This openness, according to Lippincott, is both attainable and sustainable, and involves a re-imagining of the monograph as tied into—not separate from—the academy. This model, she argued, can work for the humanities; subsidizing monograph publishing up-front through the university.

Lippincott went on to further define what she means by the term ‘openness’:

  • It is diverse: reliance on the market forces certain choices that diminish access to certain types of scholarship, and open access eliminates this issue.
  • It is dynamic: openness enables new forms of inquiry and understanding – low barriers to entry open up the field.
  • It is impactful: researchers turn frequently to the web rather than the library catalogue. Open books are searchable, and possibly more broadly read.
  • It is accessible and preservable: open digital books are easily adapted for various needs, and can be preserved in ways that proprietary ebooks cannot.
  • It is aligned with the mission of the university: advocating open publishing promotes knowledge.

The final speaker was Robert Harrington of the American Mathematical Society (AMS). The AMS commits to keeping its books in print in perpetuity – in math disciplines older books are still studied, and Harrington argued, print is here to stay. However, regardless of form, we need to create relevant, high quality content.

Harrington broke down the academic monograph into several factors:

  • Culture: Books are as much of a process of exploration and discovery for authors as they are for readers
  • Form and Function
  • Delivery
  • Business Models

He also offered an argument against open access: if you publish on the basis of merit vs. market, then you have to define merit. Perhaps instead, he suggested, we need mixed economic/business models – and, he asked, isn’t applicability to the highest number of readers (market) one way to do that?

In addition to continuing with conventional monographic publishing, even in electronic form (PDF), AMS is experimenting with innovative digital features for readers and for authors, including:

  • Annotation
  • Working more with LaTeX and TeX as markup
  • Experimenting with Hypothes.is and Manifold Scholarship

 

The official debate ended there. The Academic Book of the Future Project would like to thank Brown for organizing and hosting this event, and would like the extend the debate to you: what do you think of the issues raised here? Let us know!

#AcBookWeek: Interdisciplinary Research and Publishing: Challenges and Opportunities

In today’s guest post, independent academic publisher Rowman & Littlefield International  reflects on the highlights that the publishing industry celebrated in 2015, and especially #AcBookWeek. 

Rowman and LittlefieldWhen the first Academic Book Week was first announced earlier this year, we were thrilled to be given the opportunity to raise awareness what we do every day: publishing interdisciplinary academic books in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Academic publishing is traditionally divided up into strict segments according to what disciplines are taught by universities. As an interdisciplinary publisher, our aim is to bridge gaps between the disciplines and offer new insights based on a more inclusive, innovative approach, and Academic Book Week offered us the ideal opportunity to share these principles with the wider academic community. Our event ‘Interdisciplinary Research and Publishing: Challenges and Opportunities’ was initiated!

Martina O’Sullivan, our Senior Commissioning Editor in Cultural Studies, secured a fabulous panel of speakers who are published experts in the field of interdisciplinary research and publishing. They were joined by our Editorial Director, Sarah Campbell, to offer a broad range of perspectives on the topic. Our panel covered everything from some tips on how to get interdisciplinary work published, to alternative modes of research and publishing, right through to very practical advice for early career researchers.

The speakers were:

  • Sarah Campbell, Editorial Director, Rowman & Littlefield International
  • Gary Hall, Professor of Media and Performing Arts, Coventry University
  • Laurence Hemming, Professor, Politics, Philosophy and Religion, Lancaster University
  • Danielle Sands, Lecturer in Comparative Literature and Culture, Royal Holloway
  • David Chandler, Professor of International Relations, University of Westminster

All we needed was an event location, and thanks to Peter Garner, Library Liaison Manager, and the excellent team at the Maughan Library, King’s College, we had the opportunity to secure the prestigious Weston Room, a magnificent Grade II listed edifice which is part of King’s College.

Although our event was free, we asked attendees to register their interest via the AcBookWeek website. We were sold out of tickets the day before the event and so a crowd of interested current and future academic researchers and authors entered the gates of the Maughan Library on Tuesday, 10 November. After a brief introduction from Martina O’Sullivan, Sarah Campbell opened the panel session with her talk on getting interdisciplinary work published.

See the video recording of Sarah Campbell: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRY0deRkdHE


 

“What is required is an opening towards non-knowledge”―Gary Hall, Professor of Media and Performing Arts

Gary Hall, presenting on Alternative Modes of Academic Research and Publishing, focused his talk on the three keywords audience, book and interdisciplinarity, maintaining that the task of every writer should be to challenge pre-existing definitions in academic disciplines.

See the video recording of Gary Hall:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_Y551Es1Lk


 

“What is Interdisciplinary Research?”―Laurence Hemming

Laurence Hemming followed by asking: ‘What is Interdisciplinary Research?’ and pointed out that many publishers nowadays publish books in increasingly more narrow categories, likening the current situation of interdisciplinary research to a house without a heating system, thereby also stressing the importance of letting traditional phenomena speak for themselves, based on traditional knowledge of a discipline.

See the video recording of Laurence Hemming: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BY7szuOGhYU


 

“Tips for Early Career Researchers”―Danielle Sands

But how to go about it and where to start as an early career researcher? Danielle Sands’ engaging and useful lecture contained tips and advice for interdisciplinary researchers, including how to navigate one’s way through academic conferences and job adverts as an academic with an interdisciplinary approach.

See the video recording of Danielle Sands: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wqJ5G_FChg


 

“The problems of the world call for interdisciplinarity”―David Chandler, Professor of International Relations

David Chandler rounded up the session with his lively panel about how interdisciplinary projects are perceived, and how they act in today’s academic world.

See the video recording of David Chandler: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-O89z-cn4x4


 

In the Q&A session that followed, our panellists answered a range of detailed questions from the audience, and the lively discussion continued until late into the evening with drinks and canapés. For us, it was a brilliant event which not only provided us with a chance to meet upcoming interdisciplinary scholars, but also an opportunity to listen to first-hand experiences of top academics who do interdisciplinary work; inspiring us to bring the ever-evolving academic book publishing process into its next age. A round-up of the event can be viewed alongside all other videos here.

We from Rowman & Littlefield International are sure that Academic Book Week will prove to be another highlight for us in 2016, and indeed become a regular highlight in the diary of every academic. For now, I would very much like to thank the organisers of Academic Book Week for providing us with a platform to create an event like this; our panellists and the Maughan Library again for making this stimulating event happen; and everyone who contributed with their attendance and questions. I hope to see you again next year!

 

 

#AcBookWeek: Ecologies of Publishing Futures

On the 23rd November 2015 The Royal College of Art hosted a symposium to discuss the Ecologies of Publishing Futures. The symposium asked ‘How do designers engage in new ecologies and what is the future of publishing?’ Academics, designers, storytellers, publishers, and students spoke about this from international perspectives and debated over the book and its lifecycle, as well as the role of writing, designing, and the processes of mediating, distributing, and reading.

Amongst the speakers was Andrew Prescott, Professor of Digital Humanities at the University of Glasgow and an AHRC Digital Transformation theme Leadership Fellow. He spoke from the perspective of a medievalist who has spent great deal of time studying manuscripts and records (writing his PhD thesis on the record of the Peasant’s Revolt 1381). Throughout his research, Prescott stated he was struck by the need to understand the wealth of information as physical artefacts, as well as just reading them as manuscripts. This work inspired him to continue on as a curator at the British Library, where he was part of a digitisation project which used special lighting techniques to discover the hidden letters underneath the repaired manuscript of Beowulf – burnt in a fire in 1731 and repaired in the nineteenth century. (Note: The Beowulf manuscript has been in The British Library’s possession since 1973 and a digitised version is now available to browse on their website, along with some additional information, here:http://www.bl.uk/collection-items/beowulf)

Prescott spoke about how this work and his time at the British Library made him conscious of the hugely varied material forms of textuality. Historical documents can range from clay tablets to sound files and moving images, and, he argued, digital technology can help convey the wide-ranging nature of historical textuality. Digital technology also allows closer contact between libraries, archives, and museums. According to Prescott the important thing to take away from this is that dialogue with artists and designers is essential in articulating fresh perspectives on engagement with historical material. An example he cited was an art project by Fabio Antinori called Data Flags, which was exhibited at the V&A last year. He used conductive ink, which is often thought of as an analogue art form but can turn paper into circuits. Through other examples Prescott suggested that the textuality of art is always changing and shifting with the times and proved that the boundary between primary object, publication and interpretation is starting to be fundamentally restated. Prescott summed up his talk by ending on a somewhat cynical note: while all the possibilities he mentioned are there, people are bit taking advantage of them. His view is that the scholarly environment for an undergraduate today is less media-rich than it was forty years ago. Textbooks during his time as an undergraduate explored the potential of new printing methods, none of which have been followed through on.

Dan Franklin, Digital Publisher at Penguin Random House, had been given a brief to provide a provocation for the event on the state of digital publishing, so what he provided was a ‘where-we-are-now’ overview to provoke discussion and invite debate. He acknowledged the changes digital publishing is making to the publishing industry and talked about it from the perspective of someone who is in the midst of the shifting landscape.

Using an analogy of William Golding’s The Inheritors Franklin compared the plot of that novel, the collision of Neanderthal men and women with Homo sapiens, the people who would inherit the earth from them with the current state of the publishing industry. The analogy here being the moment of transition between print and digital, a short and historical moment of co-existence. And Franklin suggests that they can thrive with each other instead of being viewed as competitors. He recognises the urgency and potentially demoralising nature of change, but adds that it can also be exciting, depending on your viewpoint. As a digital publisher at Penguin Random House he motivates his team to explore the bleeding edges of this publishing transformation.

During this year Franklin stated he has seen some interesting and willful misinterpretations of what is happening in publishing. The fact of the matter is that 25%+ of publishers’ revenues are coming in via digital and that is not going to reverse. The “takeover” however, has not happened as quickly as people thought it would and Franklin states this is a testament to the formidable power of the printed book. Franklin is adamant that the word processor has not stopped writers continuing and developing the novel form so why should the innovation stop there? Franklin urges publishers to continue to be innovative with change and see what can come from it.

Professor Teal Triggs of the RCA stated that by talking about “ecologies” of the publishing industry, we can strive to understand the process of the lifecycle better and whether proposed models are going to be relevant. It’s important to look at the entire lifecycle, not just the editorial or author aspects but the design and distribution as well. Creative people think differently and their design thinking process can be a catalyst for forwar- thinking throughout the whole industry.

 

See Dan’s talk write-up here: https://medium.com/@PRHDigital/an-earthquake-in-the-petrified-forest-86f6ffa5c85d#.jpyxy6pmq

See Andrews’s talk write-up here: https://medium.com/digital-riffs/are-we-doomed-to-a-word-of-pdfs-11f57edaf926#.9r1w3lyh2

See twitter hashtag #bookfutures for more information about the symposium and other related events.